By Jenna Ross
As you drive down Ortega Highway, it’s virtually impossible to miss the rolling green hills and farmland that surrounds the development of Rancho Mission Viejo (RMV). This area is overseen by The Reserve, which monitors the land’s development as it relates to the environment and organizes a variety of education and outreach programs.
The land under The Reserve’s watchful eye has been owned by one family, the O’Neills, since 1882, and plans for its residential and commercial development came to fruition in 2000.
Laura Coley Eisenberg, The Reserve’s executive director, joined the company in 2000 to undertake a series of studies determining which areas would be under development. The findings led to a plan that 25 percent of the land would be used for residential and commercial purposes, while 75 percent would be preserved.
Every area under current or future development in RMV correlates with a certain amount of open space. The two current developed areas are Esencia and Sendero, but there are still four more to come.
“The less disturbed an area was that we were going to be building on, the bigger the open space associated with it had to be,” said Coley Eisenberg. “As Rancho Mission Viejo starts developing (other planning areas), then the habitat reserve will get bigger over time.”
The Reserve also actively monitors 32 different species of wildlife, several of which are listed either on federal or state endangered species lists, and maintains the land by supervising restoration projects and undertaking the removal of invasive species.
“We did a big project to remove giant reed from San Juan Creek because it will benefit the Arroyo toad, which is one of the endangered species,” Coley Eisenberg said.
Along with management and monitoring, The Reserve also participates in outreach events in RMV and surrounding cities, programs for Capistrano Unified School District elementary schools, and community programs such as astronomy nights or wildflower walks. These programs are mostly run by volunteers.
“Without the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do many of the things that we do,” said Leeta Latham, The Reserve’s education and public programs manager.
For more information on wildlife preservation or community events, visit rmvreserve.org.